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Whiskey and bones.
The dark, broken bottles and the white skulls gleamed
in the light from my phone, which was currently useless
except for the horrifying illumination it provided. How many
of my relatives had died in this hidden liquor cellar? How
many shots had been fired from above into the huddled women and children down here, shattering their lives along with a bootlegging
fortune—the finest American bourbon money could not buy—not
legally, at least.
They had died hugging each other. The bones showed
that—holding onto their children, their friends, their
sisters and mothers, while whiskey and blood make a lake
beneath them on the stone floor. Eighty years had passed
since that terrible night, and now, it looked as if I’d be
will find me, or at least he’ll find my body. He’ll
understand, I hope. These dead include his family, too.
I was entombed on the floor of a man-made cavern built deep
in the side of a North Carolina mountain as old as the moon. Not the way a city girl from Philadelphia expects to
end up, but then, nothing about my Appalachian legacy had
turned out the way I’d expected. The truth about my
ancestors’ grisly fate closed in around me, their sorrows
and secrets embedded in the rough stone walls and the rows
of coarse wood shelving still intact on the moldy walls
above my head. Hundreds of whiskey bottles still rested on
their sides there, corked and aging, waiting for the
sunlight to warm them again.
going to sip some of that liquor when I get out of this
grave. I don’t care if it’s all turned to vinegar. Someone
should taste what they died for.
My bloodline, and Liam’s, directly connected us to the men
who’d brewed the famous hooch—the Irish-Americans who’d
plowed the fields of the Little Finn River valley, grown the
corn under soft blue mountain skies, and—before
Prohibition—squeezed out its fermented essence at a handsome
stone-and-timber distillery in Ballybeg. They’d made the
liquor casks with their own tough hands—chopped down the oak
trees, honed the planks blacksmithed the iron bands that
held the ribbing water-tight; finally, they’d stored and
tested and aged the corn whiskey until it became the dark
gold treasure they drew into bottles and hid on these
And the women . . . the women of Éire
County had been famous as shepherds, weavers, knitters,
artisans of the wool sheared from Irish sheep brought to the
Carolinas off the same ship as their ancestors. My DNA was
in the bones of these dead women around me; they had
bequeathed me their love of all things wooly and woven,
their skill for turning fiber into form.
My phone light settled on the rotting remnants of a shawl
over one of the skeletons.
study the pattern when daylight comes. I’ll knit one just
like it. I won’t forget you, any of you.
turned the light on my jeaned legs. A jumble of stones
trapped my right leg from the thigh down.
make it out alive.
My head swam. Something was broken. Everything was going
will find me, either way. One of us has to tell the world
what happened here.
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